• Editorial
  • Art News
  • Bill Viola’s first exhibition in İstanbul at Borusan Contemporary

Bill Viola’s first exhibition in İstanbul at Borusan Contemporary

By hosting the first Istanbul exhibition of the pioneering video artist Bill Viola in Istanbul, Borusan Contemporary leads into the new artistic season that opens with the 16th Istanbul Biennial. Bill Viola: Impermanent features works from different phases of the artist’s oeuvre, including works from the early years, to delve deeply into the world renowned artist’s practice.

Bill Viola has been investigating the mysteries of the human condition for more than forty years, employing video technology as a medium that during those decades evolved at a rapid pace. Each work seduces us with its hint of a grand narrative at work, a promise to reveal to us something we don’t already know about birth, death, fear, desire, or reality. Certainly the works are enigmatic, but with their lush visual clarity, and with the presence of humans and human agency, with some conflict being confronted, the viewers feel compelled to search for the story.
The works are like koans with their narratives—classic Buddhist riddles that are unresolvable, inviting us to experience a glimpse of what Viola calls the “invisible world” where our standard intellectual configurations of existence are revealed to be artificial.
Viola’s work has been shown worldwide and the artist has received numerous awards for his achievements, including a U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship (1980), the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1989), XXI Catalonia International Prize (2009), and the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association (2011). His works have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism.
In this exhibition curated by Kathleen Forde, there are themes that run throughout all ten works: immersion, transformation, a confrontation with basic elements of air, and water. That last one is among Viola’s most powerful motifs. In works such as Ascension and The Raft water is a force the human figures struggle with and are controlled by; while in other works, such as Madison and Sharon, the immersion in water is a peaceful, perhaps edenic experience, a connection to the dream state.
Chott el-Djerid, a much earlier video from 1979, addresses the question of perception, and serves to underpin the connective strands of the later pieces. Subtitled A Portrait in Light and Heat, it considers the phenomenon of a desert mirage, the dry Saharan lake of the title, and features the near-whiteout of a winter prairie landscape. The images are disorienting. We are perhaps meant to reckon with the disturbing notion that if our senses are unreliable then we have no mechanism for assessing the world or ourselves within it. Perhaps Viola is simply inviting us to engage in the principal activity that he says defines his work: “looking with great focus at the ordinary things around me.”

The exhibition, open on the weekends at Borusan Contemporary, is on view until September 13, 2020.